Photographs By Mark Margraff
Culpepper Steakhouse of Dallas Serves More Than Just Beef
You know, cowboys don’t eat just beef. Yes, they know beef – and a great steak, at that – better than most anyone. But, what else can be considered authentic cowboy cuisine? We have the answer, in the form of upscale yet finger-lickin’ fare of Culpepper Steakhouse of Rockwall, Texas.
We called late in the dinner hour, at about 8:30 p.m. It was a Monday night and the restaurant business is historically quietest on Monday nights in “these here parts.” I meekly asked if we could bring in a large party for an impromptu party at about 9:00 p.m. The manager’s answer was a confident, kind, “Yes, of course!”
I hadn’t yet told him we wanted to review the cuisine of Chef Chad Bowden. I thought I would be subtle and appreciative of their last-minute kindness without adding any additional stress.
We settled into our table after meandering through Culpepper’s renowned, eclectic mix of “ranchana” and collectibles from miles around, including several taxidermic masterpieces such as an African lion. It is the kind of place you want to explore as you wait for your appetizers to arrive. Giant stone fireplaces provide both warmth and ambience, while animal rugs and an abundance of wood and brass are cozy themes. Yes, you can immediately tell from your surroundings that you are in Texas.
Menu for Range Riders and City Dwellers
We were a fairly large group. Collectively we decided to test the Culpepper Steakhouse kitchen by ordering as much from the menu as we could. Well, in reality, we were just hungry and wanting our first authentic local meal, outside of the fast food we had to order throughout our three-day shoot. So order we did.
The “Starters” menu includes: An Iced Seafood Platter of lobster medallions, prawns, smoked scallops, New England oysters and king crab; Saffron Black Mussels served with a toasted torn baguette, carrots, celery, onions, and saffron broth; An Artisan Cheese Platter of imported and domestic daily selections; Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail with a cracked pepper cocktail sauce; Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes under a crawfish etouffé sauce; Breaded Texas Torpedoes, Poblano Strips and Onion Rings, served with Habanero sour cream and garlic ranch sauce; then, the Flash Fry Calamari Steak served with mango Thai chili sauce. Of these, we opted for Saffron Black Mussels, Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes and, of course, the Breaded Texas Torpedoes, Poblano Strips and Onion Rings.
The Saffron Black Mussels were the standout favorite of our table, both in presentation and flavor. We actually counted the number on the platter and equally delved them out to those wanting to taste, as who wants to start a steak house brawl over mussels on a Monday night, right? Muscles in a bar on a Friday, perhaps, but that is another story. There was one lone mussel that had refused to open. Knowing what could be in store for a diner silly enough to challenge Fate and pry the holdout open to eat it, we all refrained. Also considering the exceptional flavor of the others on the platter, as well as the late hour, we certainly didn’t find the oversight reason for complaint. Saffron Black Mussels will be a reorder, if our little group ventures into Culpepper again.
Second on our Starter preference list is the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes. Now, these crab cakes are not what one would consider “pretty.” But what they lacked in presentation, they made up for when eaten. The crawfish etouffé was exactly as it should be and a delightful topper for the hearty crab. There was distinct separation of the delicate, light cake flavors from the etouffé upon your palate, yet they married well in a concise union.
Finally, the Texas Torpedoes platter was typical of a Lone Star State presentation. You cannot go to a steak house down here without expectation of some sort of stuffed jalapeno, fried appetizer or onion ring. They delivered, true to the cliché and yet presented in a more enticing and artful manner than the typical “piling” on a round platter or in a paper-lined straw basket. If in Texas, you must have a stuffed pepper or two. It is the law.
Kudos to me for bringing my newfound Yankee taste buds back home to the South on this trip, as I was actually able to spread some nuggets of knowledge a few of the non-Northeasterners on the trip had apparently not yet acquired in their dining notebooks. Who knew that Tomato Caprese Salad was not staple fare south of the Mason Dixon? Well, I knew it is not as common down yonder, so I ordered it as part of our Salads selection for the next course. My first twenty-four years were as a Southerner, so I did not learn of the delight known as a “Caprese” until I hit Philadelphia in my mid-thirties.
Imagine my excitement when the Caprese arrived, with giant red tomatoes alternating with gorgeous, memory-laden light green tomatoes I grew up eating fried and peppered! And yes, the mozzarella was authentic, fresh and the likes of which I had never known until dating an Italian American decades after leaving Texas. Topped with aged balsamic vinegar, oil and fresh basil, Mamma Mia would be proud.
Others in the group ordered common House Salads consisting of baby field greens, marinated cherry tomatoes, onions, candied Texas pecans and honey-lemon vinaigrette. Options from Soups & Salads fare included Homemade Soup of the Day; the Award Winning! Caesar Salad with sourdough croutons and Grana parmesan; The Iceberg Wedge of tomatoes, buttermilk blue cheese, egg, and apple-smoked bacon; and the Baby Spinach Salad of fresh figs, goat cheese, pancetta, and white balsamic vinaigrette.
When ordering our main course, we had all decided to overlook beef. It was very difficult, though, with choices such as the Mesquite Wood-Grilled Steaks & Chops with aged Prime and Premium Gold Angus, served with roasted garlic smashed potatoes; a 16-ounce Prime New York Strip; 24-ounce T-Bone; Filet Mignon in both 8 and 12-ounces; a 14-ounce Ribeye; 10-ounce Flat Iron; or pork favorite Natural Cut Pork Chops in honey tamarind sauce. In that we opted against these, we were not qualified to add surf to our turf, including the 12-ounce Butter Poached Australian Lobster Tail or local legend 6-ounce Chicken Fried Lobster Tail. Yes, folks…Chicken Fried Lobster Tail.
Other house features, and selections awaiting us, were the Cedar-Smoked Cedar Plank King Salmon, Chilean Sea Bass, Chicken Fried Lobster Tail & Chipotle Glazed Quail, Roasted Duck Breast, Smoked Baby Back Ribs, Grilled Texas Shrimp, Mesquite Grilled Texas Quail, Culpepper Chicken & Half Grilled Lobster Tail, Baked Grouper en Papillote, and Garden Rigatoni Pasta. We opted for Grilled Texas Shrimp, Mesquite Grilled Texas Quail, Chilean Sea Bass, Culpepper Chicken & Half Grilled Lobster Tail.
We ventured forward. Although, at this point and with as little stomach capacity as we had left to spare following the delightful first two courses, I doubt most real cowboys would even have the ability to continue eating.
Chilean Sea Bass served atop pine nut risotto and lightly sauced in jalapeno beurre blanc was a crowd pleaser. The monochrome presentation begged for adornment of even a subtle burst of color in my mind, but the flavor and textures combined well to leave us happy.
The Grilled Texas Shrimp was nicely presented, arranged alternately with homemade cornbread wedges around a center of the black bean sauce and Pico de Gallo. All hail the Pico. Wait, all hail the cornbread. There are certain things a child of the south misses after leaving home. For me, cornbread and pico are high on the list. These did not disappoint, as I sang to myself, “Take me home, country roads.” The Grilled Shrimp was perfect, too.
Culpepper Steakhouse Chicken & Half Grilled Lobster Tail in garlic chive compound butter was exactly as expected, a delicious “standard” wonderfully grilled and tame enough for cowboy fare-wary cowpokes.
Now we get to the quail. I ordered the Mesquite Grilled Texas Quail with orange chipotle glaze, as I have had no quail, nor chipotle, of any kind, since about 1985. It was time for some quail and I was hoping for the quality my father once delivered to the dinner table, courtesy a first-class hunting excursion.
I loved the presentation of three birds intertwined atop my chosen garlic smashed potatoes. I must admit that the bird was worth every painful bite as I grew too full to continue into the plate. I could only partially explore the flavor of one fowl, but managed to victoriously clean a few leg bones and a little of the breast. Upon tasting, I was regretful that we had indulged so heavily in the Starters and my Caprese, as well as the sampling of every shared main course platter at the table.
Authenticity Found on Lake Ray Hubbard
Collectively our recommendation is that you, at some point, venture to Texas and just on the outskirts of Dallas to Rockwall. The setting of Culpepper Steakhouse is a perch atop Lake Ray Hubbard and makes for a wonderfully flavorful end to a day of business or whatever takes you to Big D, in the first place. Yes, it is off the beaten path just a tad, but I promise you will not fall off the end of the earth as you work your way through commuter traffic and across the reservoir.
You may choose to sample some of the standard cowboy fare of steaks, chops or ribs. But if you choose to do something unexpected as we did, you will not be disappointed in the pleasures that are fowl and seafood. Everything on the menu is delightfully prepared true to the form of authentic cowboy cuisine.